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Good old Blagojevich

Given my strong record of hating Blagojevich — many people e-mailed and IMed to congratulate me on his arreset — it was perhaps surprising to some that I did not post on the topic yesterday. In any case, here I am, with two observations:

  1. Blagojevich is showing a degree of consistency that is, in itself, almost admirable. In fact, it reminds me of the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, my personal favorite — he is accused of corruption, and in order to escape the situation and assure himself some kind of future, he engages in even more corruption. Sadly, there is no one admiring his shrewdness and commending him in this case, because….
  2. the man has clearly never watched a mafia movie. I mean, seriously — talking on the phone? Talking about these plots in your office? It’s not as though he could possibly have thought the feds “weren’t onto him” — the case against him was extremely well-publicized and reporters asked him about it constantly. And this is a guy who was a former prosecutor! He could not possibly fail to know that wiretaps of various kinds were part of the process.

I think we have a clue in his statements in response to reports about the wiretaps — he claimed that they can go ahead, because everything he’s saying is legal. We are forced to confront the unimaginable possibility that he really does think that. Even now, he may sincerely fail to understand that his machinations with regard to the senate seat were inappropriate — much less the absolute outrage that everyone agrees they were.

Here it might be helpful to distinguish between the sociopath and what I will call the Blagojevich type — since there is a real possibility that he is sui generis. A sociopath has no moral compass, but is aware of the moral compass of others. That is how he is able to get away with things. Similarly, the sociopath has no real sense of loyalty, etc., but understands that others do and is therefore able to manipulate them. The Blagojevich type shares with the sociopath the lack of moral compass and any non-self-serving emotion, but with a crucial omission: basic self-awareness.

On the model of a Scooby Doo villain, the only appropriate thing for the Blagojevich type to say when caught is, “And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for myself!” Yet precisely because he is a Blagojevich type, he can’t understand the concept of self-undermining. Instead, the Blagojevich type says, “When this blows over, I’m just going to appoint myself to the senate and start laying the groundwork for my 2016 presidential run.”

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December 10, 2008 - Posted by | Blagojevich

15 Comments

  1. I’m sure his limited mental capacity is devoted to the question of who he can appoint to the senate seat RIGHT NOW, to get him out of this mess. Patrick Fitzgerald? Valerie Jarrett? Michelle Obama? Pat Ryan? GEORGE RYAN?

    He’s wondering if he parachutes himself senator now, whether the benefit of additional fundraising would outweigh the additional cost of having to defend the appointment in court.

    Comment by ted whalen | December 10, 2008

  2. I’m just wondering who he’s going to take down with him. If there are others, hopefully Blago will talk and give up other names local and statewide.

    Comment by Rob B | December 10, 2008

  3. I don’t know much about it, I only read one AP article briefly, but isn’t he right in the sense that saying all this stuff on the phone is not necessarily illegal? Suppose I told you: “I’m buying software for my organization and I’ll buy from the vendor who gives me the best kickback” – have I just committed a crime of some sort? Shouldn’t I actually get that kickback or at least demand it from the vendors?

    And so, wouldn’t it be better if they arrested him after he actually appointed someone and received an actual bribe?

    Comment by abb1 | December 10, 2008

  4. “Suppose I told you: “I’m buying software for my organization and I’ll buy from the vendor who gives me the best kickback” – have I just committed a crime of some sort? Shouldn’t I actually get that kickback or at least demand it from the vendors?”

    Yes, that’s illegal. I’m sort of confused you don’t know this.

    Comment by burritoboy | December 10, 2008

  5. Corruption laws are extremely nuanced. There can be no evidence of a quid pro quo, even if there is one. The billions of dollars of political contributions are all intended to buy something, but putting all the cards on the table is not allowed. As a result, a contributor who gets nothing can’t make a complaint; all he can do is contribute to an opponent the next time.

    There’s a pro-bribery argument to be made. One reason why politics tends to be dominated by multi-millionaires is that legit politicians make very little money. Anyone talented enough to be an effective Congressman could make much more money in business. A lot of bribery cases catch politicians with no personal wealth who effectively can’t afford to be in the business. (Alternatively, they’re people who don’t have the connections and money-laundering skills to get money without getting caught.) The idea of low-paid volunteer politicians strongly favors the wealthy.

    Comment by John Emerson | December 11, 2008

  6. burritoboy, it is illegal to say this, really? Even if I don’t follow thru? What about “I’ll kill that bastard!”, is it illegal to say it?

    Comment by abb1 | December 11, 2008

  7. I’m sure his limited mental capacity is devoted to the question of who he can appoint to the senate seat RIGHT NOW, to get him out of this mess. Patrick Fitzgerald? Valerie Jarrett? Michelle Obama? Pat Ryan? GEORGE RYAN?

    The answer to this question (as I’ve written elsewhere) is George W. Bush who would pardon Blago in exchange for the Senate seat. The only detail which I haven’t quite worked out is why W. would want the job.

    Comment by peep | December 11, 2008

  8. Here it might be helpful to distinguish between the sociopath and what I will call the Blagojevich type — since there is a real possibility that he is sui generis. A sociopath has no moral compass, but is aware of the moral compass of others. That is how he is able to get away with things. Similarly, the sociopath has no real sense of loyalty, etc., but understands that others do and is therefore able to manipulate them. The Blagojevich type shares with the sociopath the lack of moral compass and any non-self-serving emotion, but with a crucial omission: basic self-awareness.

    I don’t see this as that unusual a type — sociopaths are fairly uncommon, but people that lack basic self-awareness aren’t unusual, so the combination of sociopath and lack of basic self-awareness might be rare, but not extraordinarily rare. What does strike me as incredible is that someone with these combination of characteristics could be elected Governor of Illinois…twice!? Not only lacking a moral code, but actually unable to understand other peoples’ moral code well enough to pretend?

    Comment by peep | December 11, 2008

  9. Lacking a moral code, but having a well-connected wife.

    Comment by Wrongshore | December 11, 2008

  10. “burritoboy, it is illegal to say this, really? Even if I don’t follow thru? What about “I’ll kill that bastard!”, is it illegal to say it?”

    If you own the firm then it’s not a kickback I suppose (well, presumably you’d just ask the vendor for a bigger explicit discount). If you’re merely an employee, yes, even just saying that is illegal. Whether you’d actually be prosecuted if you didn’t actually go through with it is another matter, but it is certainly prosecutable.

    Blaggo more surprises me that he doesn’t know how these things are done more subtly so that everyone’s happy and no one goes to jail. Everybody would expect that Blaggo’s pick will be his future political ally, do him favors if doable and so on. What’s Blaggo need cash for, anyway? Won’t he get an assured law or public policy professorship anyway?

    Comment by burritoboy | December 11, 2008

  11. even just saying that is illegal

    Sorry, I can’t believe it, it can’t be true. A state that would prosecute you for fantasizing about committing a crime has to be a totalitarian state. And I don’t believe it’s that bad yet.

    Btw, Jack Shafer at Slate is saying the same thing: http://www.slate.com/id/2206442/

    Comment by abb1 | December 12, 2008

  12. I don’t know that soliciting a kickback as an employee of a private firm is illegal. You could certainly get fired, and if you actually took a kickback that might be embezzlement.

    There are probably specific laws against public officials soliciting bribes in exchange for the performance of their public duties in particular ways, the typical defense is probably that there was no connection between the money given and the action taken, and this is why we have juries.

    The actual criminal charges filed are regarding demanding the Tribune fire people Blago didn’t like in exchange for funding the sale of Wrigley field, violating 18 USC 666 (a)(1)(b) and (a)(2). Link to the relevant statute here. Seems plausible to me.

    It also seems pretty clear why they didn’t want to let Blago nominate someone to the Senate in exchange for a bribe, charge him. then maybe or maybe not convict him in several months, and then decide what to do with the now-sitting Senator.

    Comment by Jake | December 12, 2008

  13. Soliciting kickbacks and bribes probably is illegal indeed, but bragging to your buddies about the bribes you will get in the future (which is what the recordings I heard amount to) is not. What is so complicated here? This is in regards to his selling the senate appointment. If they have an actual solicitation in the Tribune thing, that’s fine.

    Comment by abb1 | December 12, 2008

  14. i’m hoping Blagojevich will inspire Congress to finally grow a pair and do what’s best for the people they represent (by putting this guy away for a long time)

    Comment by coffee fiend | January 7, 2009

  15. [...] corruption! What is it that makes me so incredibly insightful? Well, for one thing, as I have already noted, Blagojevich’s behavior has been characterized by a corruption so thorough-going as to almost [...]

    Pingback by Right about Burris yet again « The Weblog | February 17, 2009


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